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Cain v. Abel

Che Tibby's view from Wellington | Oct 18, 2005 22:19

Yet another interesting speech this week. Hat tip to No Right Turn, who pointed to this speech By Dr. Michael Cullen subtitled 'Reflections on NZ Politics and History'.

Actually, if you have an interest in reading politics, and are happy to wade through the great number of speeches on the Beehive website, it's a veritable gold-mine of information. Naturally it contains all the spin in the world, and members of the Government of all persuasions talking on all kinds of subjects, but if you can't cut through that kind of stuff you're probably not an authentic politics geek.

Anyhow, Cullen. I thought I'd bring this speech forward for your consideration. Mostly because I think it's a subtle but good representation of the contrary viewpoint I mentioned briefly when discussing Bill English's speech.

As I waxed lyrical in All New Zealanders English's point of view can be interpreted as being centred on a future in which the current diverse elements of the population gradually coalesce into a better, more collective whole.

Regarding the Treaty, English was happy to point out to me that he does not consider that we'll all evolve into a 'sameness'. Rather that Waitangi was not a sound pivot on which our future development should turn. Instead, he thinks that we are better negotiating between ourselves, as a nation-becoming, on terms suitable to all. Waitangi seems to kind of 'get in the way' of equitable relations.

It's an interesting perspective that seems, to me, to strongly represent what many people in New Zealand think. And as I said the other day, it is a valid point of view. Flawed, but no more flawed than the contrary POV posed by Dr. Cullen in the aforementioned speech.

Let's face facts. As I was driving at in All New Zealanders, absolutely any effort at nation-building, from whatever beginning, will always run into that inevitable tide called time. All that which we now consider rock will one day be sand. But sweet as, I like beaches.

Naturally I hit English up for an interview for Public Address. I think he's still making up his mind. Any Club Politique reader is welcome to send a VERY POLITE email to his address at parliament and ask that he free up some time for a new project I'm trying to get off the drawing board.

English did however also point out to me that he was interested in sameness in as far as it meant one standard of citizenship for New Zealanders.

This is the idea that creates the greatest connection to Cullen's speech. Whereas both are happy to acknowledge the contribution to New Zealand history brought from offshore, our ancestors of the mind, there is a sharp divergence in the 'imagining' brought by either party to the issue of present and continuous nation-building.

If I sketch with a crayon, Cullen's take is one that emphasises the benefits of biculturalism and continuing diversity, while English's emphasises the benefits of not locking ethnic groups of any sort into cubby-holing.

Now, I know to many readers this sounds more or less like 'warble waffle warble blah', but the difference in the two points of view is absolutely fundamental to the future of New Zealand, and is much, much larger than the contrary positions of the Labour and National Parties.

It seems to me that many New Zealanders are simply confused by what all this race relations talk is all about. More often than not they get on with their neighbours, be they Māori or whatever, and can't understand why politics is getting in the way.

There are any number of specific takes on how politics intersects with race. The key to understanding them though is the way in which power becomes a determining factor in people or groups talking to one another. Who gets to decide whether Māori continues to be spoken as national language, for example? Who gets to exert the power necessary to make that decision stick?

The days are long gone of Māori being told this and told that, hopefully to never return, and both the speeches mentioned here acknowledge that. And we're left with the question of the best way to include Māori in the post-colonial New Zealand we've all become accustomed to.

What I see then are two contrary perspectives about to where the power moves. Does it stay with the minority in a kind of joint-sharing arrangement (biculturalism), or does it brought in from the cold and incorporated into the fabric of the future New Zealand?

In a way, we now have two archetypes for race relations. Two poles between which to build that big slingshot to the future. Hell, I have my own opinions on the matter, but that's a subject for another day.

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